I was reading the AJC the other morning and came across an article by Neal Boortz. I am not necessarily a Boortz fan but the title caught my eye. It was entitled “Neal Boortz: When service pets become a disservice”. (http://www.ajc.com/opinion/neal-boortz-when-service-739228.html) I have to admit it intrigued me.
Apparently Mr. Boortz was on a flight several months ago when a woman boarded the plane with a big slobbering bulldog on a leash. She obviously was sitting close enough to him that the dog was staring him down and he asked her if the dog was a service dog to which she barked (pardon the pun) yes.
He had first thought maybe it was due to the Americans with Disabilities Act which defines a service animal as defines a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.”
His take on it, after some research, was that the dog was probably not an actual service dog since bulldogs apparently do not make good service dogs but apparently the owner realized that bulldogs (and closely related breeds) do not fare well in the cargo holds of planes therefore she took advantage of a fairly new act called the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) in which basically it’s illegal for airlines to discriminate against anyone travelling ( actually by train, plane, bus or car) with their service dog and rather than face a potential lawsuit for questioning whether the dog was actually a service dog or not, they allowed her to bring her “pet” on board, not in a carrier, but on a leash.
He was, I think, upset that the airline carrier did not contest what she said for fear of being sued, therefore he was inconvenienced by having to put up with this slobbering bulldog on his flight. This article reminded me of an incidence I witnessed a couple of months ago.
I was at the car rental agency we always use. They had to take the vehicle to get a tire checked that I questioned so I was waiting on the sidewalk for him to bring the vehicle back when the manager was out there checking out a vehicle they were renting to a man with obvious disabilities. Between the conversation I had gleaned at the counter and my own observation, I came to the conclusion that this man was a disabled vet, still recovering from injuries received in Iraq or Afghanistan. He looked to be in his early thirties, was bald, either prematurely or due to his injuries and subsequent shaving of his head I’m not sure. He had a large, wicked looking scar, running almost entirely across his head, pretty much from ear to ear across the top. He walked with a very noticeable limp and used a cane. He obviously was not and will probably never be “healed”.
I was standing there on the sidewalk and I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop but I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation which went something like this:
Rental Agent: You know you need to bring the car back with the same amount of gas and there is no smoking in any of our vehicles and there are no pets allowed in the vehicle.
Disabled Vet: Well, I have a service dog.
Rental Agent: We don’t allow pets in our vehicles.
DV: It’s not a “pet”. It’s a service dog and sometimes I have to have her with me.
RA: Well, if you have to, just make sure you vacuum the car before you bring it back because if we find any pet hairs in the vehicle in the car we’ll have to charge you extra for cleaning it.
DV: Are you SERIOUS?
RA: Yes sir. We will have to charge you extra if we have to vacuum it ourselves.
Then man just shook his head disgustedly and got in the car. I was aghast at insistence that the man clean the car… he was on freaking canes! I turned to the Rental Agent and said “Excuse me, but I don’t think you’re allowed to do that.”
RA: Do what?
Me: Charge him for vacuuming the car.
RA: Yes I can. It’s in our policies.
Me: No, I mean charge him for vacuuming the car because of a service dog.
RA: Well, he’s obviously not blind or he wouldn’t be renting a car and he doesn’t look to me like he needs a service dog so it’s probably just his pet.
Me: Regardless of whether it’s his pet or his service dog I wouldn’t question that one if I were you. I think you might just want to suck that one up and pay to have it cleaned yourself. You best not push that issue.
RA: Why? It’s policy.
Me: Sir, I am not trying to tell you how to do your job BUT… this man is obviously not only disabled, BUT… he’s also a disabled veteran which in my opinion makes it even more important. You can’t always tell by looking at people why they might need a service dog. He might not need it every day. You know how with back injuries you might be fine one day and the next you can’t walk? You don’t know what his disabilities are. (I then related to him a few examples of my friend Weldon and his service dog Bixen) And we do have the Americans with Disabilities Act so I think you need to go check your handbook or call your boss or something because I truly don’t believe you’re allowed to charge him for vacuuming the car because of a service animal. I think that is something you are responsible for. I’m just saying I don’t think you need a lawsuit on your hands and if you discriminate against him because of his service dog you will have a lawsuit on your hands.
He seriously had never ever thought about that situation. I left and the next time I went in to rent a vehicle I asked him what had happened with the situation. He admitted that he was totally unaware of his own responsibilities in a situation like that and as soon as I had left he had called his regional manager who also had no idea and had to call his boss. Bottom line was that they found out that they indeed cannot force someone to pay for vacuuming out a vehicle because of a service dog. He was completely oblivious. He thanked me for saving them from a potential lawsuit and told me he had actually had the privilege of taking the gentleman home after he brought back the rental car and that he had gotten to “meet” the service dog and he thanked me for enlightening him. He said he had just never thought of that before and was just looking at the policies as “black and white” and not realizing that there are gray areas that you sometimes need to consider.
Thank you, Weldon, for having been my friend and enlightening ME and opening my eyes so I can see farther than the end of my own nose. Let’s not forget that there are others that constantly battle things unseen and unknown to us and that we need to sometimes forget our own comfort zone and step out and stand up for others.